Those singing penguins from Happy Feet are doing a little tap dance today after their computer-animated movie edged out the James Bond reinvention Casino Royale at the box office over the weekend. According to Sunday’s estimates, Happy Feet, playing in about 400 more theaters, earned $42.3 million versus Casino Royale’s $40.6 mil — a small $1.7 mil spread that could narrow when Monday’s final numbers are released.
Now, to paraphrase Aaron Neville, I don’t know much, but I know that I’ve had better weekends predicting the box office returns. Actually, I’ve had better times in general. Like that weekend a while back when I got into a bike accident and then went to the emergency room, where I unwittingly overheard someone say that Rosebud was a sled and that Soylent Green is people — now, that was a great weekend compared to this one. First, of course, that team down South upended my beloved Wolverines in a three-point nail-biter, thanks to two big plays, a borderline personal-foul call, and home-field advantage. (Yeah, try dotting your ”i” in a neutral-site rematch out in Arizona, suckas!) Then, in a poised fourth-quarter drive, Happy Feet pulled away from Casino Royale, which had been ahead by about $3 mil on Friday. This unsettles me as an 007 fan and as somebody who takes pride in saying things like, oh, for example, that James Bond was going to clobber the talking animals at the box office this weekend.
While I sit here and lick my wounds, however, the wizards at Warner Bros. should be happy indeed. Their PG-rated family film, directed by Babe: Pig in the City (and Mad Max) veteran George Miller, enjoyed the year’s third-best CG-movie debut (Ice Age: The Meltdown and Cars both premiered with more than $60 mil). Too, this movie’s $42.3 mil gross ranks as the studio’s second-best opening number of the year (Superman Returns bowed to $52.5 mil). And, along with The Departed (No. 9), whose box office tally now stands at $113.9 mil, Happy Feet goes a long way in salvaging what had been an incredibly disappointing year for my sister company out in Burbank, which had high-profile flops in Poseidon and Lady in the Water, and high-profile underperformers like the aforementioned Superman Returns.
Neither should the faces be too long at Sony and MGM, for Casino Royale came through with a strong gross — the second-best ever for a Bond flick, as a matter of fact, after the $47.1 mil that Die Another Day earned in 2002. Moreover, professional reviewers seem to love this movie (it scores a strong 80 out of 100 on Metacritic.com), as do lay folk, who gave it an A- CinemaScore. The fact that its audience was 60 percent male and two-thirds over age 25 (whaddya know, that’s me!) could be a little problematic. But good word of mouth certainly helps, and I expect to see Casino Royale sprout some long legs as the only true franchise film on the slate for the rest of the year. Anyway, I’ll certainly be seeing it again, thanks to the fantastic new Bond girl, Eva Green.
Borat (No. 3) made benefit glorious studio of Fox with an additional $14.5 mil, on a 49 percent decline. The mockumentary’s total is now $90.5 mil, and it should start to slow as its buzz finally dies and more of its remaining audience pool files lawsuits (which Fox will no doubt say lack merit). The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause (No. 4) and Flushed Away (No. 5) also powered down, with $8.2 mil and $6.8 mil, respectively. Freestyle Releasing’s horror-movie festival 8 Films to Die For spooked crowds into coughing up $2.4 mil in 488 theaters. And the comedy Let’s Go to Prison was thrown in solitary with a $2.1 mil premiere.
Among smaller releases, MGM and the Weinstein Company’s multi-character RFK-assassination drama Bobby fared best, averaging a dandy $33,500 in two locations. Warner Independent’s Christopher Guest farce For Your Consideration averaged an okay $17,130 in 23 venues. That was far better than Fox Searchlight’s feces-in-the-hamburgers book adaptation Fast Food Nation, which had a pitiful $390,000 take in 321 theaters. And it all came on a weekend when, the well-nourished Paul at Exhibitor Relations reports, overall receipts were down a super-size 22 percent from the same period last year. So at least I have a little company in my misery. Anybody want fries with that?